August 01, 2014

Remembering 'tragedy queen' Meena Kumari on her Birthday

1st August marks the birth anniversary of Mahjabeen Bano aka  Meena Kumari. With her droop of curl dropping on her face, combined with an anguish-laden voice, she was no doubt was the epitome of uncontrollable tragedy. Here are a few unknown facts about this beautiful talented actress:
  • Meena Kumari's original name was Mahjabeen Bano. She was the third daughter of Ali Baksh and Iqbal Begum. At the time of her birth, her parents were unable to pay the fees of Dr. Gadre(who had delivered her), so her father left her at a Muslim orphanage. However, he picked her up after a few hours.
  • Meena Kumari's mother was a Hindu and her original name was Prabhavati Devi. After marriage, she converted from Hinduism to Islam, and changed her name to Iqbal Begum.
  • Mahjabeen wanted to study in school but was compelled to act in Hindi movies as a child artiste, and ended up becoming the sole bread earner of the family.
  • Director, Producer Vijay Bhatt, who was proprietor of Prakash Studio was approached by Ali Baksh to cast Mahajabeen in one of his films. At that time Vijay was making Leather Face(hindi title was 'Farzande Watan', which was released in 1939) in which Jairaj was the hero and Mehtab the heroine. There was a vacancy for a small girl to play Jairaj’s daughter and it is for this part that Vjay wanted to cast Mahajabeen. At the audition, the little girl was neither intimidated nor overawed by the surroundings or the equipment. He was quick to spot this and gave her the role. A fabulous sum of 25 rupees was paid to Mahajabeen.
  • On the sets of the film 'Ek Hi Phool' Vijay Bhatt suggested the name Baby Meena and henceforth Mahajabeen was known by this name until she grew up to be a lady and her name naturally matured to Meena Kumari.
  • Vijay Bhatt offered her, the role of a grown up beautiful lover Gauri in Baiju Bawra. The film was a super hit and Meena became a super star, this film also brought her the maiden best actress Filmfare Award.
  • After 14 years later in the film Magroor Meena played the role of Jairaj’s love-intrest.
  • She is the only heroine to have all the nominations in the Filmfare awards. In the year 1961 she was nominated for three of her performances in three different films, Saheb Biwi Aur Ghulam, Aarti & Main Chup Rahungi. This achievement still not accomplished by any other actress at the Filmfare Awards She won for Saheb Biwi Aur Ghulam.
  • She learned tennis from Mehmood.
  • Meena Kumari was a big fan of Marilyn Monroe.
  • In movie Bahen which released in 1941,merely at the age of 8 years, Meena sang a beautiful song 'Tora Kajra Lagoon Mori Rani' with Beena Kumari. After that she lent her voice in many movies like Duniya Ek Sarai, Piya Ghar Aaja and Bichade Balam etc.
  • The producer of her film "Abhilasha" was a builder who built a bungalow for her as the film fee. During her last days, she sold off the bungalow to Mumtaz and paid a huge amount to financially bankrupt Sawan Kumar who was making "Gomti Ke Kinare", which incidently became her last released film.
  • Meena almost drowned while shooting for Baiju Bawara.
  • Kamal Amrohi siged her to play Anarkali in the early 50's.A few scenes were canned at Bombay Talkies Studios, but after first schedule because of Meena's accident, the film was abandoned. While she met an accident while she was coming back from Mahabaleshwar and lost her finger and admitted to Pune’s Sasoon Hospital for three months. Amrohi used visits her every weekend and writes 'Meri Anarkali'on her wrist, there and that's how love bloomed. Finally, they got married on February 15, 1952.
  • Though she lost her finger, yet she was excellent in hiding the injury in her films.
  • She used to collect pebbles from the riverside and keep them at her bedside.
  • Pakeezah was planned together by Kamal Amrohi & Meena Kumari in 1958 and at first, was launched as a Black & White venture. Later with color technology coming in, Kamal Amrohi started it all again in the new color format. But soon after that when Cinemascope also got introduced, Amrohi now wanted to shoot it in Cinemascope. So he brought the required lens from MGM on royalty basis and started shooting. However, after a while an error was detected in the shoot being done with the new lens. The matter was reported to MGM, who after studying the problem, didn’t collect their due royalties and also gifted that lens to Amrohi as an appreciation gesture.
  • Pakeezah was still being made, when in 1964, Kamal Amrohi and Meena Kumari got separated due to their mutual differences. The project came to a halt for some time and then was resumed in 1968 with an intervention from Sunil Dutt & Nargis. After watching the rushes of the movie, both Sunil and Nargis persuaded Meena Kumari to support the project and revive it. Getting convinced, she started shooting again in 1968 and the project got a new life.
  • When Pakeezah was resumed in 1968, many exhibitors suggested Kamal Amrohi to change the music according to the then famous trend and style. To this Amrohi said that he would have readily done this if only 'Ghulam Mohammed' was still breathing alive. But, now he cannot betray a man, who gave him such melodious songs, after his unexpected & untimely death. So he kept his music intact, but used fewer songs as planned to keep up with the fast changing times. Later, the legendary composer Naushad was brought in to do the background score for the movie and he also added some fine ‘Thumris’ in it as required. After few years HMV (now SAREGAMA) released all the remaining 9 unreleased tracks in a different LP titled PAKEEZAH – RANG BARANG, about which many are still not aware of.
  • Initially Ashok Kumar was supossed to play the character of Salim in the Pakeezah. When the project got resumed, Dharmendra, Rajendra Kumar and Sunil Dutt were considered for the same role which eventually went to Raaj Kumar. And after Raaj accepting the role, it was modified from being a businessman’s character to a forest officer according to the strong built and impressive persona of Raaj Kumar.
  • Shooting of Pakeezah again started in 1968. At that time Meena Kumari was suffering from alcoholism and was in serious critical condition under observation. But since, she was still Amrohi's only choice, she agreed to complete the film, despite her severe ill health conditions.
  • Meena Kumari’s not so good health insisted that some of the dance sequences and scenes should be shot without her. So, Amrohi shot the entire song “Chalo Dildaar Chalo”  without showing her face. For the long shots in dance sequences of various other songs Padma Khanna was used as a body-double, her face covered with Ghunghat throughout her performance.
  • Meena Kumari died just two months after the Pakeezah got released. Till then, the movie was having a lukewarm response at the box-office, but as the news of her death spread, the movie unintentionally got associated with it and started getting huge response. Later it was declared a hit and acquired a cult status in the history of Indian Cinema. It is also now remembered as Meena Kumari’s last film.
  • On 31st March, Meena died 1972 at the age 34 years.
  • "Appa! Appa! I don’t want to die," Meena Kumari said while crying out from her deathbed to her elder sister Khursheed.
  • At one point as many as 31 people would live with Meena, on her money. But when she died, they couldn't even arrange Rs.3,500 to get her body released from the hospital. 
  • She was buried at Rahematabad Qabristan located at Narialwadi, Mazgaon, Mumbai.
  • Gulzar was the only man she trusted in the film industry to hand over her personal diary sometime before her death.
  • Though Meena has projected tragedy like no one else this does not mean that she was not good at light hearted roles and fact is that she was excellent in her lighter movies as well and there are several examples of it. She could smile equally well and her smiles, though rare in her later films, are a sunshine. It is said, even one smile in a film was sufficient for the viewer. Perhaps we can classify roughly half her movies as sad and that is what gave her more fame and recognition and she slowly and steadily changed into the famous 'tragedy queen'. So famous that today the name Meena Kumari and tragedy are synonymous in the Indian heart and mind.
-K Himaanshu Shukla...



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